NFC North: Sammie Hill

One of the takeways from John Clayton's assessment of the ugly 2009 NFL draft: The NFC North performed less disastrously than most.

As Clayton notes, only 60 of the players drafted that year remain with their original teams. Nearly 20 percent of that total are NFC North players, including six players selected in the first two rounds.

The chart displays the full list. It's fair to point out that some players drafted in these parts have either found success on other teams or have taken their talents elsewhere.

That group includes receiver Percy Harvin, the Minnesota Vikings' first-round draft choice who was traded in March to the Seattle Seahawks. The Green Bay Packers' fifth-round pick, offensive lineman Jamon Meredith, started 12 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. Former Chicago Bears seventh-round pick Lance Louis is expected to start for the Miami Dolphins in 2013, and the same is true for the Detroit Lions' fourth-round pick, defensive tackle Sammie Hill, who signed this spring with the Tennessee Titans.

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews is one of two first-round picks to receive a market-level payday, and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford should soon follow suit. Quite clearly, the 2011 draft was much worse for the NFC North than 2009.
As we suspected it might, a late tampering warning from the NFL contributed to a quiet first night of the league's three-day free agency "negotiating" window. A number of player agents publicly noted a lack of activity, and there was a minimum of reported interest in pending free agents around the league.

Hill
One of the few: Detroit Lions defensive tackle Sammie Hill has generated interest from four teams, according to Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com, but the Lions aren't one of them. For what it's worth, the 2013 draft is said to be deep at defensive tackle.

The lack of news doesn't necessarily mean teams took the night off. As ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt wrote on Twitter: "NFL sends teams memo regarding pre-free agency period. Translation of memo: "Negotiate away, but please just be quiet about it!"

Indeed, even an unattributed media report of a contract agreement will spur a tampering investigation, according to the NFL.

I'll continue to check in over the course of the weekend, but from the looks of it, the minute-by-minute chaos some of us expected won't happen until the free agent market officially opens Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET. If anything, we could get some news on players re-signing with their own teams after they have a commitment-free time period to gauge their value on the market.

We're also awaiting news on a possible contract extension for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, which would free up significant salary cap space, as well as some roster maneuvering by the Chicago Bears to add to their current total of about $4 million in cap space.

In the meantime, have a pleasant Saturday morning.

BBAO: Never say never on Finley

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
8:25
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Last week, Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley told ESPN he would not take a pay cut to remain with the team in 2013. This week, his agent did what agents should do -- leave every option open.

In an interview with Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, agent Blake Baratz said: "I would never just turn my nose up at anything. I will listen and hear anybody about anything and withhold judgment until I do."

The upshot of the story is that the Packers don't need to act until the end of this month. They don't need Finley's salary-cap space immediately, and his $3 million roster bonus -- which they wouldn't want to pay if he isn't going to be on the team in 2013 -- isn't due until March 27.

That's two weeks into the free-agent market, a time when big-spending teams have typically doled out their major dollars already. There would no doubt be interest in Finley at that time, but there would be less available salary-cap space for teams to make significant offers. Just something to think about.

Continuing around the NFC North:

NFC North Friday injury report

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
5:39
PM ET
Let's get inside our last Friday injury report of the 2012 season. Sniff, sniff…

Chicago Bears: Linebacker Brian Urlacher practiced for the first time since injuring his hamstring Dec. 2, but he was limited and is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions. It's more likely that Urlacher was beginning the process of returning for the playoffs if the Bears make it that far. The Bears listed tailback Matt Forte (ankle) as probable, but they also elevated running back Harvey Unga from the practice squad because backup Armando Allen is questionable because of a knee injury. Defensive lineman Henry Melton (chest) is questionable as well. Safety Chris Conte (hamstring) and linebacker Blake Costanzo (calf) are out.

Detroit Lions: Defensive lineman Sammie Hill (toe) is out of Sunday's game. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) is out, but all other players should be available.

Green Bay Packers: Receiver Randall Cobb (ankle) returned to practice Friday in a limited fashion and is listed as questionable. Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters that Cobb looked good but that a decision on his status for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings hasn't been determined. Receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) is probable, as is defensive linemen C.J. Wilson (knee) and Jerel Worthy (hamstring). Cornerback Davon House (shoulder/hip) is doubtful.

Minnesota Vikings: There appears a good chance the Vikings will have all 53 players on their roster available for Sunday. Defensive end Brian Robison (shoulder) is questionable but he practiced all week and appears on track to at least be in uniform, even if backup Everson Griffen takes the lead. Cornerback Antoine Winfield did not practice this week because of a broken hand and is listed as questionable. Winfield did some work on the sidelines Friday and seems set to play with padding on his hand.

BBAO: Adrian Peterson recovery ongoing

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
7:20
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over. (We're also on Facebook and Twitter.)

Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson has noted often that he does not consider himself 100 percent recovered from major knee surgery in December. I suppose you could say he hasn't demonstrated the same burst he had before the injury, but how is Peterson measuring this recovery?

I thought he had an interesting response while speaking with reporters Thursday. Via Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com, Peterson said: "It's just me knowing my body. When I look in the mirror, I'm like, 'OK, my right leg is obviously bigger than my left.' I know it's not as strong as far as different things that I do. That's when I'll be able to tell, when I won't be able to tell the difference between the strength of both legs."

Fortunately for the Vikings, a less-than-100-percent Peterson is still a quite serviceable NFL running back. But the answer on when, or if, he will approach his pre-injury levels remains elusive.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams is happy to have some veterans who can problem-solve, he tells Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield is used to facing receivers who are a half-foot taller than him, or more. Mark Craig of the Star Tribune explains.
  • Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan on quarterback Matthew Stafford's day of practice Thursday, via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News: "He got a lot of good work in. He was out there and he was feeling a lot better." Stafford (leg) is expected to start Sunday at Ford Field.
  • The Lions have given up 12.5 career sacks to Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, notes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • It's time for Lions defensive linemen Nick Fairley and Sammie Hill to step up, writes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the Green Bay Packers' offensive problems in Seattle: " Mike McCarthy and [offensive coordinator Tom] Clements' game plan assumed the Packers were going to be able to handle the crowd noise, bump coverage from the Seahawks' defensive backs and the speed of ends Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons. It was a very bad assumption and the two switched to a more run-oriented attack with Cedric Benson in the second half."
  • Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga was frustrated by his individual performance in that game, notes Silverstein.
  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette doesn't have anything nice to say about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
  • Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy didn't comment publicly on the Monday night game "out of respect for and concern for the sensitivity of the bargaining process," he said in a statement, via the Journal Sentinel.
  • Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte "continues to get better," coach Lovie Smith said, via Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Competition has made some Bears starters better, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
  • The Bears have the NFL's worst offense on first downs, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.

NFC North Thursday practice report

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
5:21
PM ET
Let's take a quick look at the Thursday practice report, which includes news of surgery for a starting defensive lineman and an addition for one starting quarterback:

Chicago Bears: Tailback Matt Forte (ankle) again participated in a limited portion of practice and appears to be no worse for the wear. Tight end Evan Rodriguez (knee) hasn't practiced the past two days. Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly missed practice Thursday because of an illness.

Detroit Lions: As we noted earlier, quarterback Matthew Stafford (strained leg muscle/hamstring/hip) returned to practice and appears on track to start Sunday at Ford Field. But defensive tackle Corey Williams won't play after having knee surgery earlier in the week. He'll be replaced by Sammie Hill and Nick Fairley. Tight end Tony Scheffler (calf) returned to practice after missing more than a week. Safety Amari Spievey (groin) was added to the injury report as a limited participant. Receiver Titus Young (knee) returned to practice.

Green Bay Packers: All players again participated in at least a portion of practice except for safety Sean Richardson.

Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback Christian Ponder (neck) was added to the injury report as a limited participant, but he is expected to start Sunday against the Lions. Linebacker Erin Henderson (concussion) has not yet been cleared to practice. Meanwhile, the Vikings waived tight end Allen Reisner to clear a roster spot for receiver Jerome Simpson.
For the past five weeks or so, many of you submitted questions about potential matches between NFC North teams and a number of restricted free agents (RFA), from Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace to Baltimore Ravens cornerback Ladarius Webb. You've also wondered if someone would make a run at one of our RFAs, be it Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, Lions defensive tackle Sammie Hill, or even Chicago Bears running back Kahlil Bell.

The answer in each case was no, no, no, no, no and a big fat no.

As ESPN analyst Andrew Brandt pointed out this week, restricted free agency is a dying classification that appears to have run its course. The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement requires rookies to receive four-year contracts, which eventually will nullify a category that requires an expired contract and three years of accrued experience.

A conspiracy theorist would question what the future of restricted free agency has to do with how it functions in 2012. Are teams in unspoken agreement -- i.e. colluding -- to leave each other's RFAs alone, thus eliminating an entire class of players from movement? I guess everyone can draw their own conclusions on that, but here is what Brandt -- the Green Bay Packers' longtime contract negotiator -- wrote about it:
This is hard to pinpoint, though as a front office executive I was hesitant to present RFA offer sheets, thinking I was negotiating the contract for the incumbent team, as it usually matches. However, as noted above, the Wallace situation finds the Steelers susceptible.

Another factor is an increased emphasis on building through the draft. With a reduced financial obligation compared to the past, especially high in the draft, these picks are more valuable than ever. Combine that with the high financial price of prying away an RFA, and teams are shying away.

Beyond these reasons, however, an overriding concern for players is that teams are spending less on players than in recent years, and RFA inactivity is a symptom of a larger malady.

Friday is the final day for RFAs to sign an offer sheet with another team. Goodbye, restricted free agency. We'll miss you.

BBAO: A busy Tuesday awaits

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
8:45
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

It's been a while since we had a late Monday night gathering here on the blog, but I thought the news of what appears to be the end of the Minnesota Vikings' 2012 stadium bill was worth it. To summarize, I think it's time for the Vikings to play their final card in this high-stakes game: They must at least demonstrate a willingness to entertain offers to relocate. Otherwise, Minnesota politicians won't feel the urgency to act on their stadium issue.

Tuesday will be busy as well. We'll blog throughout the day, have our usual 2 p.m. ET chat and then be in place at 7 p.m. ET when the NFL announces its 2012 schedule. We'll have team-by-team analysis posted as quickly as my chubby fingers can type it out.

For now, let's take a spin around the NFC North:
Following up on Monday morning's post about restricted free agents (RFAs), we have a significant update to pass along.

After clearing around $16 million in cap space, the Detroit Lions assigned a second-round tender to linebacker DeAndre Levy, according to the team. That means Levy now counts $1.927 million against the Lions' salary cap; any team that wants to sign him would be required to give up a second-round draft pick.

Defensive lineman Sammie Hill and offensive lineman Corey Hilliard both received the low tender, which requires compensation equal to the round they were originally drafted in. A team would need to surrender a fourth-round pick for Hill and a sixth-rounder for Hilliard, and for now each player counts $1.26 million against the Lions' 2012 salary cap.

All told, the Lions committed $4.447 million in cap space to their three restricted free agents. The best I can figure at this moment, the Lions are at best a couple million dollars below the $120.6 million salary cap for 2012.
In a matter of a few hours, it appears the Detroit Lions have cut enough salary cap space -- or, more accurately, pushed enough of it to future years -- that they can avoid cutting any any players in order to comply with the NFL's salary cap limit by Tuesday's deadline. Let's quickly catch up on what they've done and try to get a handle on what it means.

The Lions opened the day more than $11 million above the cap, but multiple reports, including this one from the Detroit Free Press and another from the Lions' web site, have confirmed the team restructured the contracts of quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Nate Burleson. The team reduced Stafford's cap number by more than $7 million and Burleson's by $2.175 million.

Meanwhile, the agent for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh told Fox Sports Detroit that Suh has also agreed to a restructure, and Suh's new cap number will low enough to account for more than $11 million in total cap savings when combined with the restructures of Stafford and Burleson.

We don't yet know how much under the cap the Lions will enter the NFL's new league year with Tuesday, but a rough estimate would put them about $5 million under at this point. A few other points to keep in mind:
  1. The Lions will need a certain portion of that surplus to sign their draft picks.
  2. They'll need enough room to re-sign linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who appears set to test the free agent market.
  3. The Lions have yet to announce the restricted free agent tenders they presumably will give to linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive tackle Sammie Hill. The minimum combined cap hit of those two tenders will be $3.8 million.
  4. Pushing $7 million in cap space into the final three years of Stafford's deal means he will be in a position similar to receiver Calvin Johnson next year at this time. If my math is right, Stafford's salary cap number will exceed $20 million for 2013. Johnson's cap number is about $22 million at the moment, and it will stay that way unless he and the Lions agree to a long-term extension.
  5. Stafford's restructure was absolutely necessary and shouldn't result in any change in the cash he will receive in 2012, but it should also work in Stafford's favor when those long-term negotiations begin. The higher Stafford's base salary, the higher is eventual franchise tag number would be. That eventually serves as a baseline for negotiations.
  6. The Lions have the option to borrow more cap space, about $1.5 million, from future years under the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement.
  7. This is important: While it's not ideal, pushing cap commitments ahead isn't necessarily an irresponsible financial approach. The NFL's new television contracts will kick in for the 2014 season, an event that is expected to elevate the league's total cap space considerably.

Mailbag: A note on RFA tenders

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
9:45
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With NFL free agency set to begin Tuesday, David of Colorado Springs brings up a fair point: "Why haven't we heard much about RFA tenders this year?"

David specifically wants to know how it relates to the Detroit Lions, who need to shave more than $11 million in cap space before Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, but it's worth taking a broader look at what is almost always a drama-less segment of free agency.

RFAs -- "Restricted Free Agents" -- are players who have accrued three years' experience in the NFL. They are eligible for a new contract, but teams can restrict their access by requiring draft-pick compensation for them to move on and receiving the right to match any deal a player receives. Rare is the case when a third-year player is valuable enough to merit a lucrative contract and a draft pick, and a result, RFAs usually don't change teams.

So the only news when it comes to RFAs is typically whether they were issued a tender or not. The level of the tender is mostly an issue of the salary cap.

In 2012, according to NFL.com, there are three levels of RFA tenders. A player who requires a first-round compensation will get a tender (and cap number) worth $2.742 million, according to NFL.com. Second-round tenders are worth $1.927 million in cap and cash, and tenders that include right to match only are worth $1.26 million.

The Lions have two significant RFAs: Linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive tackle Sammie Hill. You would think both would get at least a second-round tender. Would another team give up a second-round pick to acquire either player? Probably not, and every cap dollar will matter this year to the Lions. But they could ensure both players' return beyond a doubt by giving them first-round tenders at a combined additional cost of $1.63 million.

The NFL typically announces tender levels on the day free agency begins, and we'll pass along what we find out before then. Other key RFAs in the NFC North include Chicago Bears running back Kahlil Bell, Minnesota Vikings running back Lorenzo Booker and Vikings linebacker/special-teams ace Kenny Onatolu.
We've all heard the question in one form of the other: Is Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril really that good? Or is he a product of the attention drawn by his higher-profile defensive teammates?

Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders took a closer look at that question, charting each of Avril's sacks to document double-teams and the skill level of the right tackles he beat. A few interesting nuggets emerged:
  • All but one of Avril's sacks came on a four-man rush.
  • He was double-teamed on one of the 11 sacks.
  • Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was double-teamed on five of the 11 sacks.
  • Defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill was double-teamed on four of the sacks.
  • Six of the 11 sacks were of the "strip" variety, plays where Avril didn't bring down the quarterback but instead knocked the ball out of his hands, a play that is no less valuable in the grand scheme of things.

To me, and to Tanier, there are no smoking guns in this analysis and no reason to question why the Lions made him their franchise player. It would be one thing if Avril's sacks had come amid the chaos of six- or seven-man blitz packages. Lots of players can grab garbage sacks in those situations.

But as we've discussed many times, the Lions ran their defense last season based on a four-man pass rush to provide maximum personnel in coverage. A four-man rush can't have a weak link, and whether or not you think Avril is an elite player, he proved last season that he could consistently beat single blocks. When the Lions say that Avril is a good fit for their scheme, that's what they mean.

BBAO: Aaron Rodgers on Packers' plans

December, 14, 2011
12/14/11
7:20
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

It appears that Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has not only made a decision about his approach to relatively meaningless games late in the regular season, but he has also told at least one player how it will go.

Speaking Tuesday on his ESPN 540 radio show, quarterback Aaron Rodgers indicated McCarthy has confided in him and that the entire team will know as soon as Sunday, when a victory or a San Francisco 49ers loss would give the Packers the NFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

"I am anxious to get to Sunday and am excited about the opportunity to wrap things up, Rodgers said. "There is some information that is privileged and some that is for some people's ears only. So I can’t say that I'm completely oblivious [to] what the potential plans are, but I am excited about the rest of the team figuring them out as well."

Based on comments from McCarthy and other players in the Packers' locker room Sunday, it seemed clear the team won't bench starters to protect them from injury in the final weeks of the regular season. Earlier in the show, however, Rodgers suggested that McCarthy could look to get some key players out of games early if the score allows.

"The score may come into play here the last few weeks potentially if we’ve got things wrapped up," he said.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Jim Schwartz on Suh and accountability

November, 29, 2011
11/29/11
5:41
PM ET
I don't often post raw transcripts of daily interview sessions with NFC North players and coaches, but Tuesday marked the first time Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz has extensively addressed the ejection and suspension of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Speaking to Detroit-area reporters, Schwartz made clear he disapproved of Suh's actions and reactions to the events of Thursday. Schwartz took ultimate responsibility for the episode and said all concerned parties would be held accountable.

Here are the relevant questions and answers, courtesy the Lions' public relations staff:

On how he feels about Suh's suspension and if he will appeal

Jim Schwartz: "You know, the appeal is part of the player's process and that's outlined in the CBA and you know, the NFLPA, the player's agent, and stuff like that. That's not really a team issue. It obviously affects the team, but it's really not a team issue, so I really can’t comment on that.

"But, obviously, it hurts to lose any player for two games, much less a player like Ndamukong Suh. But there's accountability for our actions, you know, and that's a situation where something happened after the whistle.

"We want to be as tough and as physical and play as hard as we can between the snap and the whistle, but anything that happens after that -- we put our team in a bad position, we got to pay the consequences for and that's the position that we're in right now. That being said, we do have depth at [the] defensive tackle position. Nick Fairley is playing very well, as is Sammie Hill, and Corey Williams is probably playing the best football of his career, so we're going to be just fine."

"That’s part of not having players, whether it's from an injury, which we have some injury situations, or a situation like this. We'll get through it as a team, and when we get him back, we'll get back into the swing of things with him."

On if Suh is remorseful

JS: "I think I'll let him speak for himself when he gets that opportunity, but I have had a lot of conversations with him the last two days and I think he is in a different spot. You know, this is a very emotional game. There are a lot of things that happen on the field and a lot of things that maybe look different to us when we see them on film than we remembered them on the field. It happens to coaches, happens to players. But after the emotions die down and things like that, maybe you see things in a little different way.

"I don't want to speak for him, but ... I think his No. 1 thing is he didn't want to be a distraction for the team. He wanted the team to be able to focus on the Saints and then he wants to be accountable for his actions and get back on the field as quick as he can."

(Read full post)

NFC North Friday injury report

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
4:25
PM ET
Getting inside the Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: Coach Lovie Smith indicated on Thursday that receiver/kick returner Devin Hester would play Sunday, but an ankle injury kept Hester out of practice again Friday. He is listed as questionable. If he can't play, his likely replacements are Johnny Knox (kickoffs) and Earl Bennett (punts). Defensive end Julius Peppers (knee) returned to practice Friday and is probable.

Detroit Lions: It appears that place-kicker Jason Hanson, who injured his left knee in a bye week accident, will be available for Sunday's game. Hanson is listed as probable and the Lions haven't signed a possible replacement. The same can't be said of punter Ryan Donahue (quadriceps), who is listed as questionable but yielded punting duties Friday to newcomer Robert Malone. Donahue could hold for Hanson, but it seems more likely that Malone will punt. Defensive tackle Sammie Hill and safety Louis Delmas, who was added to the injury report this week with because of a foot injury, are questionable. Former Bears safety Chris Harris could replace Delmas in the lineup Sunday if needed.

Green Bay Packers: Everyone participated in practice Friday except two players already ruled out of Monday night's game, left tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring) and linebacker Frank Zombo (hamstring). Defensive end Mike Neal (knee) participated in individual but not team drills.

Minnesota Vikings: Guard Anthony Herrera (knee) is the only player missing practice this week for health reasons. He isn't expected to play Monday night.

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